Improving Science Instruction

By Long, Steven | The Science Teacher, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Improving Science Instruction


Long, Steven, The Science Teacher


"Most people in this country lack the basic understanding of science that they need to make informed decisions about the many scientific issues affecting their lives" (Singer, Hilton, and Schwiengruber 2005a, p. ES-1). This statement from the National Research Council's (NRC) America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science is a disturbing--but true--picture of science instruction in the United States. The report outlines seven conclusions, five of which I list here (Singer, Hilton, and Schwiengruber 2005a, pp. ES 1-7):

* Researchers and educators do not agree on how to define high school science laboratories or their purposes ... Gaps in the research and in capturing the knowledge of expert science teachers make it difficult to reach precise conclusions on the best approaches to laboratory teaching and learning.

* Four principles of instructional design can help laboratory experiences achieve their intended learning goals if: (1) they are designed with clear learning outcomes in mind, (2) they are thoughtfully sequenced into the flow of classroom science instruction, (3) they are designed to integrate learning of science content with learning about the processes of science, and (4) they incorporate ongoing student reflection and discussion.

* The quality of current laboratory experiences is poor for most students.

* Improving high school science teachers' capacity to lead laboratory experiences effectively is critical to advancing the educational goals of these experiences. This would require major changes in undergraduate science education.

* The organization and structure of most high schools impedes teachers' and administrators' ongoing learning about science instruction and ability to implement quality laboratory experiences.

Most states require labs for science classes, but science teachers struggle to define what constitutes a "lab." Do computer simulations, model construction, graphing on paper or with software, a field trip, and student analysis of a video experiment, all count as labs? Most teachers agree that labs are important in science education, but are all labs equal? In their Commentary in the October 2005 issue of The Science Teacher, the NRC report editors concluded, "These typical labs are no more effective than other forms of science instruction in helping students master subject matter . …

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